Over the last few weeks I have been doing a series of posts highlighting some of those cool features of the game that make it so worth playing. To date they have all been tangible features, that you can interact with. Today we are going to delve a bit into the esoteric, and as such this post will probably have a gratuitous usage of screenshots. Originally I had set aside fifteen shots for this, but I will be trying to pair down a bit. Some of the images are used with permission from jensketch.com (because I don’t play Guardian side).
Episode 06: The Atmosphere
In past articles I have covered a good number of features that show you why, rift is a game that is extremely polished and well thought out. Problem is, these features alone do not add up to what makes a game enjoyable. The reason why you get drawn into a game for any length of time is the environment. You ask yourself if the world you are being drawn into believable and is the central conflict and its characters compelling.
Basically what makes or breaks a game is it’s atmosphere, and the world of Telara has it to spare. Whether you start Defiant or Guardian you are drawn into a world at war, and into the heat of the battle. You are dipped in conflict from the moment you set foot out the door, and ushered into a world torn asunder by factional warfare and a battle with elemental planes themselves.
There have been many games that have presented you a bleak, body strewn landscape. Warhammer is a perfect example of this as it draws the player into a world of constant attacks between the forces of order and chaos. Problem is, you see this world, so decimated that you have no clue why anyone would be willing to spill blood over it. With Rift the player is given an apocalyptic vision of a possible future, only to be whisked away into the past where we the player can see exactly what there is worth saving.
A World of Beauty
The world of rift is a truly beautiful place. Even at low resolution, you can see that there has been some amazing work done on trying to bring about unique looking settings. At high and ultra settings, the world is just breath taking. As I have played various MMO titles, there have been many “ooooo” moments. The very first of these that I can remember is coming out of the mist, in Butcherblock Mountains and seeing the Statue atop Kaladim in Everquest.
With each new game, there have been more of these. I sit back, take a screenshot and move on. My rift’s screenshot folder has grown exponentially as I have leveled because each and every zone in Telara has two or three of these breathtaking moments. Above is a picture I took, when I first entered Stonefield from Freemarch. The sky had darkened, and it had just began to rain, but you could still see the strong shadows on the rocky faces. I stopped leveling, stopped paying attention to questing, and just sat there for a moment enjoying the view.
I tend to power quest my way through zones, and in other games have been able to ignore much of the scenery in my push for the goal. In rift however, I just cannot help but stop and smell the roses from time to time. Part of what has made this world so compelling is the fact that each zone is unique. In games like wow, you have prefab objects that get reused over and over. In rift, the architecture, the trees, the caves, and the landscape feel custom fit just for each area. Each board on the bridge in the above image, feels as though it were placed by hand, and is unique looking from the other bridges in Crimson Gorge (of which there are many).
A World of Danger
One of the things that had been missing from MMO games for so long, that I did not even realize I was missing, was a sense of fear. In games like Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot I used to tread into unexplored areas with a sense of dread. In the case of those games, I thought at the time, it was due to the stiff death penalties imposed on its players. So when the modern crop of MMOs heralded by World of Warcraft arrived, with easy death penalties, I was happy at the time.
What I am coming to realize now, is that those early games had a certain zone design ethic that lead to uneasiness in its players. You know that you had to be extremely careful as you hunted mobs, both in the dungeons and the outside world because one too many would mean a certain death. Rift has carried over this same old school ethic into it’s content. As you move through the outside world, you have to have the same care as you would pulling a dungeon.
On top of this, the dungeons themselves have a creepy natural feel to them. You can almost feel the dust being disturbed under your feet as your party explores them. The above image is from the end of Iron Tomb, the entry level Defiant dungeon in Freemarch. Notice how each of the surfaces exudes texture, as they are filled with careful carvings and decorations placed there once upon a time to honor the dead. Having run numerous other dungeons, I have yet to see any of the assets in Iron Tomb show up elsewhere. Each zone feels like it was crafted just for its purpose.
A World of Substance
One of the arguments I have seen on the WoW Fan sites, is that because Rift has shied away from the slapstick humor and blatant pop culture parody, that it lacks a “soul”. I think the exact opposite is true, like the titles that influenced Blizzard, Trion takes it’s game world very seriously and to me it exudes soul. So many times in an MMO you do things that seem to have no purpose. If you are asked to go to a town and rescue the villagers, it is often times from generic cartoon thugs.
From the very start of the game you are immersed in a diverse tree of factions, each with their own methods, goals and objectives. To the best of my knowledge, Rift has no nameless faceless meaningless cartoon thugs. The world is besieged by the Dragon Cults, who collectively seek to spread the influence of the dragons they champion. In other games, where the dragons represent elemental aspects, they are often times benevolent forces that shape mankind. In the world of Telara, the Dragons are cruel selfish creatures that want to seize control of the world for their own means.
In Freemarch you are introduced into this conflict first with the Endless Court. This group of cultists worship Regulos the Destroyer, the dragon of death. The Endless Court harness the power of death to bear against you a multitude of undead abominations. As you move through the zone you begin to encounter the Abyssals, a cult waging warfare on Freemarch from the depths of the Lake of Solace. This group is devoted to the water dragon Akylios, and with it brings an unspeakable legion of deepspawn and water elementals.
On the Guardian side, in Silverwood you have two central conflicts, that of the Aelfwar and the Wanton. House Aelfwar are a xenophobic group splinter cell of High Elves devoted to Greenscale, the Dragon of life. Lead by Prince Hylas, they seek to destroy civilization and remake the world in a primordial jungle. Diametrically opposed to the Aelfwar, are The Wanton. These monstrous humanoids, namely goblins and dragonians, worship Maelforge, the dragon of fire and revel in senseless violence and brutality. The Wanton will not be satisfied until every person has been slain, every forest burned, and every village ransacked all in a carnal sacrifice to their dragon god.
So each time I read one of the complaints that this game lacks soul, I keep asking myself. Are these players playing the same game I have been? I came to Rift with a pretty open mind, because quite honestly I wasn’t expecting much from it. I sat on a beta key for six months, and finally the discussions started to make me curious enough to download the 8 gig client on my crappy DSL connection. Going into it, expecting nothing, I was shocked and amazed by the vibrant and polished world I found.
Thing is a few months down the road, and a month into the live release I am still amazed by the world of Telara. Trion has shown a level of attentiveness to its players that I have not seen ever during my tenure of playing MMOs. Since release we have seen 10 hot fixes, 2 patches, with the first major content patch set to roll out this Wednesday. This level of dedication, to the game and to the world they have created truly is, why you should be playing rift.